After steam power, assembly lines and electronics, the fourth industrial revolution has the connection of all products, processes and systems on its agenda. The basis for this is formed by cyber-physical systems that enable mechanics and software to merge.
The Industry 4.0 concept of connection
Ever smaller, more powerful and, most importantly, cheaper electronics now make it possible to fit almost all hardware components with sensors. Smart materials enable these sensors to draw small amounts of required energy from their direct surroundings and transmit data wirelessly. The Industry 4.0 concept of connection goes way beyond production plants and integrates customers, business partners and processes in a cloud-based platform.
New technologies like additive production afford industry the ability to react quickly and individually to the needs of the market. Moreover, 3D printers can be used flexibly and ensure a high workload for regional production. Safety guards are disappearing in factories as sensitive robots are capable of perceiving human workers and working with them “hand in hand”.
Over the long term, Industry 4.0 will lead to the production system being able to organise itself independently. The mass production once outsourced to Asia could then return to Europe as highly automated made-to-order production in the form of the “speed factory”.